The chapter starts by introducing Mr. Jones’ farm and then describes how Mr. Jones drunkenly makes his way to bed one night. Once he has gone to bed, the animals around the farm become active, making their way to the barn because they have heard rumours that old Major, Mr. Jones’ prize boar, has had a strange dream that he wishes to share with them.
We are introduced to each of the animals as they arrive. When everyone is present, Major begins his speech. He starts out by saying that he believes he will die soon and that he wishes to share his wisdom. Then he tells the other animals about the ways in which humans take advantage of them - feeding them barely enough to survive, and forcing them to work extremely hard, before finally slaughtering them when they are no longer useful. Major insists that England has plenty of resources for everyone - the problem is that humans keeps stealing them for themselves. Because of human beings’ crimes, Major tells the animals that the time will soon come for a rebellion. The animals agree that all of them must stand together as comrades in the struggle against humans - wild animals as well as farm animals.
Before moving on to his dream, Major notes that the animals must never descend to the level of human beings. To this end, he lists a number of rules or commandments that they must follow during and after the revolution. For example, no animal shall ever kill another animal.
Major then talks briefly about his dream of the earth as it will be when humans have vanished. Finally, he shares an old song called ‘Beasts of England’, which talks about the end of human beings’ reign. The animals sing the song together with great passion, before their meeting is finally brought to an end by Mr. Jones. He is awoken by the noise and shoots a gun from his window, believing a fox has entered the yard.
Three nights after the meeting, old Major dies. His ideas continue to be popular among the animals, however, and the pigs take it upon themselves to educate the other animals on the principles necessary for achieving the revolution. Three pigs play especially important roles in this work - Napoleon, Snowball and Squealer. Together they create a form of political philosophy they call Animalism, and they try to teach the other animals about their ways. Some animals have trouble understanding the complex ideas they present, but they mostly accept them. The pigs particularly gain the loyalty of the two horses, Boxer and Clover.
We are briefly introduced to Mr. Jones’ pet raven Moses. Moses is unpopular among the animals because he does not work, but instead simply tells stories about Sugarcandy Mountain, a sort of animal paradise. Many of the animals believe his stories and the pigs find it difficult to change their minds.
The rebellion happens soon afterwards, almost by accident. Mr. Jones has grown increasingly drunken and irresponsible, which leads to the animals being left unfed for a long time. They finally break into Mr. Jones’ food stores. Mr. Jones and his men discover this and try to chase them away, but they do not expect the animals to resist and therefore quickly flee the farm when they are attacked - along with Mrs. Jones and Moses the raven.
At first the animals are extremely excited to be free. They tear down or burn parts of the farm that remind them of being oppressed. They carefully enter the farmhouse itself and decide that it should be preserved as a museum - but that no animal must ever live there.
The pigs reveal that they have learned to read and write, and they paint a new sign for the farm, naming their free community ‘Animal Farm’. They also make a formal list of seven commandments that all animals must obey, inspired by old Major’s speech in Chapter I.
The animals find the commandments inspirational, but are soon distracted by impending farm work. The cows need milking and the pigs help them, but before it can be decided what is to happen with the resulting milk, Snowball leads the animals off to begin the harvest while Napoleon stays behind. When they come back in the evening, the milk is gone.
The harvest is a great success, as the animals work efficiently together. The pigs assume leadership, while the other animals help in any way they can. The horse Boxer seems particularly excited by the new situation and works harder than ever before. Most of the animals seem very happy with their new lives, as they have both more food and more leisure time. The donkey, Benjamin, seems more sceptical about things.
We learn that Sundays are reserved for political meetings, in which the pigs propose resolutions and the animals all vote. Though all animals are in principle allowed to propose things, in practice the pigs are the only ones with the education to do so. Snowball and Napoleon make most of the proposals and lead most of the debates, though they never seem to agree on anything.
Snowball organises various classes and committees in the animals’ spare time, which leads to some of them learning to read or write to some extent. A simpler version of the Seven Commandments is created for the animals who are unable to remember them - ‘four legs good, two legs bad’. The sheep are particularly fond of this – they chant it whenever they can.
Napoleon decides to focus his efforts on educating the young, and takes nine new-born puppies to a secret room to train them.
It is revealed that the milk that disappeared went to the pigs, along with all of the apples which were collected. Some of the other animals are upset by this, but Squealer explains to them that the pigs need proper nutrition if they are to work as leaders. He also threatens the animals by saying that Jones will return if the pigs cannot lead properly. This makes the protests die down, as no animal wants to see Jones return.